Edmonton LRT route bad Feng Shui?

Posted: January 17, 2011 in Skepticism

Edmonton, Alberta: 

Home town of not only myself, but also national treasure Tommy Chong, and now home to an evil plot designed to throw the city’s energy flow into turmoil!

Recent plans for a $3 Billion expansion of the public light rail transit system into Edmonton’s “Chinatown” district has raised the concerns of local Feng Shui master Stephen Chan.  Mr. Chan stood before city council and warned that the proposed rail transit line is “really bad” Feng Shui.  He stated that it would block off the flow of positive energy, turning 102nd avenue into a spiritually stagnant pond leading to anxiety and health problems for area residents, and throwing the entire city’s energy in to a negative cycle.

Mr. Chan is asking city council to redesign the LRT expansion route, moving its path a couple blocks to the west.  He is also offering free Feng Shui consulting to the city during the planning process.

So what’s the big deal?

What’s Feng Shui?

In traditional Chinese superstition culture, Feng Shui practitioners profess an understanding of the five elements and two energies that the rest of us do not have.  This special skill set allows them to detect metaphysical energies and give directions to their customers to optimize the “flow” of the energy.  In modern times it has become a sort of architectural acupuncture, allowing magic men to insert themselves into planning or redevelopment projects, using metaphysical feelers to detect the flow of “energy” and dictate where the toilet should go, what direction your bed should face, and any number of other decisions.

What exactly this “energy” is remains undefined.  Is it thermal energy, in underground geothermal structures?  Is it kinetic energy stored in some sort of spinning fly-wheel?  Is it chemical energy in an explosive compound or tasty snack?  This is never quite answered by the practitioners of Feng Shui (or many other new-age “energy” based pseudosciences). 

We have learned through centuries of careful observation of real phenomena that energy is a measurement something’s ability to perform work.  Energy is not a thing that flows from one place to another or can be sensed, blocked or measured – it is the measurement.   A rock dropped off a building gains enough kinetic energy to dent the hood of my car.  Without the rock being acted upon by the force of gravity, there is no energy there.  Proponents of “energy” based pseudosciences have merely misappropriated a word that everyone is familiar with and sounds scientific, but is not widely understood in a technical sense.

I wonder if another Feng Shui practitioner would have evaluated the Edmonton situation the same way? If it is the tried and true science that proponents claim, then surely another Feng Shui master (who has no knowledge of the details of Mr. Chan’s analysis) could review the proposed design plans and come to exactly the same conclusion.  Has this been done?  If not, I offer my services to the City of Edmonton free of charge, as I happen to hold a Doctorate in Feng Shui, and so can you.

“But Jeff,” I hear you saying, “wouldn’t that only suggest, at best, that the Feng Shui rule books are similar enough to each other to produce a similar outcome from another practitioner?  That doesn’t mean it actually works, only that it’s well defined with limited room for subjective interpretation.” 

Right you are, dear reader.  I should know better than to try to pull one over on you.  What if another practitioner arrived at a conflicting conclusion to Mr. Chan’s?  What would that tell us about the legitimacy of Feng Shui? 

Right again.

Fight City Hall with facts, not fluff

If citizens want to take issue with a proposed civil engineering project that will affect their neighbourhoods, I fully support their right to do so.  However, when we are talking about proposed changes to significant engineering projects that will require additional spending of public dollars, superstition and pseudoscience have no place in the debate.  Objecting to a tunnel under 95th street because the numbers 9 and 5 are somehow significant in an unprovable superstition based belief system should get you thrown out of city hall, not added to a “stakeholders committee”. 

It’s generous of Mr. Chan to offer his Feng Shui master consultation services at no charge to the city, but the added expense of re-designing and re-engineering existing plans to accommodate an ancient superstition would no doubt dwarf any fees he might be waiving.  Allowing Mr. Chan to have undue influence in this matter, based solely on his claims of supernatural sensitivity to implausible “energy flows” should not be permitted by Edmonton’s city council.

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  1. Purple Pinstripe says:

    Kudo’s on your ‘Rant’, You and Rick Mercer should get together for a coffee and discuss politics. Though I guess it’s tough to debate when you’re both on the same side of the fence!

    I support your poo-poo on Feng Shui; and agree that Mr. Chan should NOT be paid by the City of Edmonton to continue his propaganda. But I don’t see it exactly as black and white as you do. I do agree that ‘Energy’ is not the correct word to be describing what Feng Shui is attenpting to promote. I do think that there are; for lack of a better term; forces in this world that Science may not be able to explain. That does not mean that they do not exist. There are many things we do in our day to day life because “it just feels right” People we avoid because “they give us the creaps”. I am reminded of a man that I met almost 20 years ago. He was a friend of a friend. He never said anything offensive, never looked at me wrong, but I just could not be in the same room as him. There was somehing about him that just bothered me. My feelings were mirrored by my friends 2 dogs. They would go NUTS, barking, growling, snarling before we even knew the guy was walking up the front walk. There was no way the dogs could have seen him… they just felt his aura and it was serial killer nasty.

    Anyway it’s an interesting point of discussion, keep them coming

    Hi to Jr. and Dr. Wife

  2. You raise a good point: Just because science is currently unable to explain something does not mean it is invalid or is not real. Take operating room general anesthesia, for example. We don’t really know how it works, but we know that it clearly does work. The goal of science is to help us try to understand the things we observe in the world around us, but there are certainly cases where we don’t yet know the answers.

    However, not understanding the mechanism behind an observable, reproducible and measurable phenomenon or force is one thing. Presuming a perceived phenomenon or force is a real part of nature when it can’t be measured, predicted, reproduced or independently verified is dangerous, given our amazing capacity to deceive ourselves (through confirmation bias, rationalization, cherry-picking of information, confusing correlation with causation, and scores more). That’s my biggest problem with Feng Shui and the like: Proponents seem to brush right over verifying whether or not it is a REAL phenomenon in their rush to get their invoicing out on time.

    Thanks for the awesome comment! Replies that make me go back and think about things again are the best kind.


  3. Purple Pinstripe says:

    That’s what I’m here for!! Just so you know, I am in agreement with you (well, 90% anyway) That’s pretty good for siblings!! ;)

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